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CHAPTER  TWENTY-EIGHT

THE LAST UNIVERSALIST

Poincare

Ix the History of his Life and Times the astrologer William
Lilly (1602-81) records an amusing - if incredible - account of
the meeting between John Napier (1550-1617), of Merchiston,
the inventor of logarithms, and Henry Briggs (1561-1631) of
Gresham College, London, who computed the first table of
common logarithms. One John Marr5 'an excellent mathemati-
cian and geometrician', had gone 6into Scotland before Mr
Briggsy purposely to be there when these two so learned persons
should meet. Mr Briggs appoints a certain day when to meet in
Edinburgh; but failing thereof, the lord Napier was doubtfully
would not come. It happened one day as John Marr and the
lord Napier were speaking of Mr Briggs: "Ah John (said Mer-
chiston), Mr Briggs will not now come." At the very moment
one knocks at the gate; John Marr hastens down, and it proved
Mr Briggs to his great contentment. He brings Mr Briggs up
into my lord's chamber, where almost one quarter of an hmtr
'was spent, each beholding other with admiration, before ant
word was spokeS
Recalling this legend Sylvester tells how he himself went
after Briggs' world record for flabbergasted admiration when,
in 1885, he called on the author of numerous astonishingly
mature and marvellously original papers on a new branch of
analysis which had been swamping the editors of mathematical
iournais since the early 1880's.
*I quite entered into Briggs5 feelings at his interview with
Napier', Sylvester confesses, 'when I recently paid a visit to
Poincare [1854-1912] in his airy perch in the Rue Gay-Lussac,
... In the presence of that mighty reservoir of pent-up intel-
lectual force my tongue at first refused its office, and it was sot
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